We all know that getting quality sleep is essential for health, especially if you’re exercising, but in our hectic society sleep often takes a back seat for most of us trying to get ahead.
Fortunately, as science improves, we begin to understand how certain ingredients can positively influence our lives and especially our sleep.
In this article, I’ll discuss a few of my favorite, natural ingredients that you can take before bedtime to help you get a restful night’s sleep for a more productive tomorrow.
Melatonin is easily the number one supplement on the list of sleep aids, but it’s at the top of the list for different reasons than most of the others, primarily because taking it doesn’t directly make you sleep.
By this I mean that for the most part, you shouldn’t expect to feel extremely sleepy after taking this supplement, but what you may actually find is that falling asleep is a bit easier.
Melatonin is a hormone, secreted by the pineal gland in response to when you normally wake and sleep. If you have a typical bed and wake time, you should expect melatonin to be released on a fairly regular schedule.
As the day goes on, melatonin is released eventually leading to you being able to fall asleep with relative ease, given that you’re sleeping at a normal time.
When this process is optimized and you sleep and wake daily, you should expect to be able to fall asleep with ease and wake feeling refreshed. Unfortunately in today’s society, that’s a bit of a dream to achieve.
One of the major inhibitors of melatonin production is light, specifically from the blue light spectrum. While this spectrum of light is primarily emitted from the sun, electronic devices such as televisions, computers, laptops, tablets and phones also emit this type of light.
This spectrum of light touches photoreceptors in the eye, which inhibit release of melatonin, making sleep difficult.
Fortunately, research shows that supplementing with melatonin can actually increase levels in the body, even if you’re exposed to light, which means that supplementing can be a major player in a good night’s rest (1, 2).
I suggest starting small with around 1 mg (yes, 1 milligram) per night, taken 30 minutes before sleep, increasing dosage as you see fit. Just remember to take your melatonin at the same time each night, as helping to create a good sleep schedule is the whole point of using this supplement.
In my experience with melatonin, when supplementing with the ingredient regularly, I find that I have an easier time falling asleep and I wake up at regular times in the morning feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the world.
Valerian is an ancient plant that has been used for sleep purposes since its discovery. For the most part, this ingredient does have sedative properties and is one of the stronger supplements on this list.
Valerian also comes in both tea and supplement form.
Valerian works primarily by increasing activity of inhibitory neurotransmitters in the brain, known as GABA. GABA is one of the most abundant neurotransmitters in the brain and acts by suppressing transmission of signals, which can create feelings of relaxation and sedation (3).
In addition to sedation, studies have shown that taking valerian root can actually reduce sleep latency, which means that the time you spend attempting to fall asleep is reduced (4, 5).
Keep in mind however that valerian can be very powerful, with some users experiencing hangover-like effects the day after. I suggest taking your dose an hour before bedtime, but starting with the lowest dose possible.
Assess your tolerance and increase your dosage accordingly, as too high a dose can leave you feeling groggy the next day.
L-Theanine is one of my favorite supplements to take both for wakefulness and relaxation. While that sounds counterintuitive, it’s actually correct. L-Theanine is an amino acid, which, believe it or not, is derived from green tea and has been shown to relieve anxiety and also help promote relaxation (6, 7, 8).
Interestingly, most people take L-Theanine alongside caffeine and other stimulants alike, because it acts as an anxiolytic or anti-anxiety supplement. Typically when combined with caffeine, Theanine helps to take the edge off, improving clarity.
Fortunately, it can provide the same benefit when you’re attempting to sleep, in effect, helping you relax and to get a nice, restful sleep. Personally, I like to use Theanine both in the morning alongside my coffee and then again at night just before bedtime.
I suggest starting with around 100-200 mg, taken an hour before sleep. If you have a low tolerance to supplements, I suggest starting with the low end and increasing as you feel is necessary.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that, surprisingly, many are deficient in. This is largely due to the fact that you need to consume it through diet, which can often lead to deficiencies, due to lack of food variation.
Interestingly, multiple studies have indicated that especially for those deficient in the mineral, supplementation of magnesium can actually improve sleep quality, significantly (9, 10).
For the most part in personal experience, I’ve found that supplementing with magnesium is especially beneficial if you have difficulty staying asleep. Just keep in mind that if you take a large dose, you may feel a bit groggy in the morning. If that occurs, simply reduce your dosage a bit.
When considering the use of magnesium for sleep, I recommend starting with a low dose of around 200 mg, 30-45 minutes before sleeping to assess tolerance. Increase incrementally as you see fit.
The Top 4 Ingredients You Need For Better Sleep
Even though sleep is so important, most of us have completely avoided the fact that we often don’t get enough of it or the time we do spend sleeping simply isn’t of very high quality.
When food and exercise alone simply don’t cut it, consider incorporating a few of these ingredients into your pre-bed routine and, within no time, you’ll have better quality sleep and wake feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day ahead.
- Celinski, K., Konturek, P. C., Konturek, S. J., Slomka, M., Cichoz-Lach, H., Brzozowski, T., & Bielanski, W. (2011). Effects of melatonin and tryptophan on healing of gastric and duodenal ulcers with Helicobacter pylori infection in humans. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 62(5), 521.
- Forsling, M. L., Wheeler, M. J., & Williams, A. J. (1999). The effect of melatonin administration on pituitary hormone secretion in man. Clinical endocrinology, 51(5), 637-642.
- Yuan, C. S., Mehendale, S., Xiao, Y., Aung, H. H., Xie, J. T., & Ang-Lee, M. K. (2004). The gamma-aminobutyric acidergic effects of valerian and valerenic acid on rat brainstem neuronal activity. Anesthesia & Analgesia, 98(2), 353-358.
- Leathwood, P. D., & Chauffard, F. (1985). Aqueous extract of valerian reduces latency to fall asleep in man. Planta medica, 51(02), 144-148.
- Barton, D. L., Atherton, P. J., Bauer, B. A., Moore Jr, D. F., Mattar, B. I., LaVasseur, B. I., … & Morgenthaler, T. I. (2011). The use of valeriana officinalis (valerian) in improving sleep in patients who are undergoing treatment for cancer: a phase III randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study: NCCTG Trial, N01C5. The journal of supportive oncology, 9(1), 24.
- Lu, K., Gray, M. A., Oliver, C., Liley, D. T., Harrison, B. J., Bartholomeusz, C. F., … & Nathan, P. J. (2004). The acute effects of L‐theanine in comparison with alprazolam on anticipatory anxiety in humans. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, 19(7), 457-465.
- Ritsner, M. S., Miodownik, C., Ratner, Y., Shleifer, T., Mar, M., Pintov, L., & Lerner, V. (2011). L-theanine relieves positive, activation, and anxiety symptoms in patients with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder: an 8-week, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, 2-center study. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 72(1), 34.
- Kimura, K., Ozeki, M., Juneja, L. R., & Ohira, H. (2007). L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biological psychology, 74(1), 39-45.
- Held, K., Antonijevic, I. A., Künzel, H., Uhr, M., Wetter, T. C., Golly, I. C., … & Murck, H. (2002). Oral Mg2+ supplementation reverses age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG changes in humans. Pharmacopsychiatry, 35(04), 135-143.
- Nielsen, F. H., Johnson, L. K., & Zeng, H. (2010). Magnesium supplementation improves indicators of low magnesium status and inflammatory stress in adults older than 51 years with poor quality sleep. Magnesium Research, 23(4), 158-168.